As per the last Census of 2011, the population of elderly people in India is around 104 Mn (roughly 8.6 per cent of total population) out of which 73 Mn reside in rural places while remaining 31 Mn are in urban areas. The Central Government has initiated several welfare policy measures for benefit of elderly people. These include Integrated Program for Older Persons (IPOP) and National Policy of Older Persons (NPOP) by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. These provide for various welfare measures including provision of food, basic necessities and medical care for needy elderly people. These policies also talk about sensitization of young school / college students towards needs and aspirations of elderly people.
However, ground reality as per various studies shows that much more needs to be done in terms of tangible benefits to elderly people. Situation of many elderly people remains grim both in terms of their physical / financial needs as well as mental health.
Needs of elderly people:
The needs of the elderly people and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can be classified under two broad categories:
Non-financial needs and CSR:
There are a large number of elderly people who might not need any financial support but they seek time / holding hand to overcome loneliness / mental illnesses. Communities do play an important role in this context. But there are several such people who are staying at homes / old age homes where they feel helpless / lonely. Many of them are also suffering from serious mental illnesses like Dementia / Alzheimer. There are nice specialized old age homes for Dementia patients like Aajicare in the city of Mumbai, who provide an excellent environment including counselling services. However, that alone is not adequate. The schools / colleges in the nearby community should have a Corporate Social Responsibility under which the students are encouraged to spend some time with the inmates there.
Our experience in this regard has been pretty good. The volunteers from My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF) have been to the various old age establishments of Aajicare and have spent time with the residents there playing games, singing songs and doing various activities with the residents. As per feedback, the impact has been encouraging.
It is recommended that such volunteering (say 2 hours a week) on part of school / college students should be part of Curriculum under Corporate Social Responsibility of the Institutes. Similar principle should apply to corporates for their employees.
Financial needs and CSR:
A large number of elderly people both in rural as well as urban places are financially impoverished and many of them are abandoned by their relatives and are staying at dedicated old age homes. Our visit to some of these homes for destitute like Paramshanthidham Vridhashram, Taloja or Karuneshwar Old Age Home, New Panvel reveals the tragic conditions of these elderly people. Neither they have any financial support to support themselves in terms of basic needs like food / other necessities, nor do they possess any money to buy medicines or take care of medical needs. The other critical need is in terms of basic medical equipment like wheel chairs, special medical beds or other medical equipment. Many of these elderly people do not even have resources to meet their cremation expenses.
Unfortunately, the elderly people and their critical needs are outside the purview of thrust areas of the Corporate Social Responsibly (CSR) of many corporates. My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF) have been supporting some of such dedicated senior citizen homes on a very modest basis. Our interaction reveals that they primarily depend on small donations from individuals or group of individuals or crowdfunding. Rarely any case of structured corporate funding has come to our notice.
We recommend that every company coming under the statutory CSR norms should earmark a certain percentage (say upto 10 per cent) of their CSR funds to the cause of elderly people through approved intermediaries. This alone can bring benefit to the cause of elderly people.
Dr A K Sen Gupta is Co-Founder and Chief Trustee of My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 9821128103.